The first group of teachers have become "autism leaders" by completing a new postgraduate qualification designed to help raise awareness of the developmental disorder within mainstream schools.
The Autism Leaders Award, delivered by the City of Wolverhampton Council's Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Outreach Service in conjunction with the University of Wolverhampton and led by Service Coordinator Dr Eve Griffiths, is aimed at SEND co-ordinators and enables mainstream schools to have their own qualified Autism Leader.
Some 15 SEND co-ordinators from mainstream schools have completed the programme, which focuses on key themes including communication and interaction and social and emotional needs and gives them an advanced understanding of the condition and how to support this unique group of learners.
They are now sharing their knowledge and expertise throughout their schools, helping staff as a whole become competent and confident in enabling pupils with autism to engage in learning and, ultimately, achieve their potential.
The group of 15 completed the programme earlier in the academic year and were invited to a ceremony at the Civic Centre recently at which they formally received accreditation from the university. A further 20 staff have enrolled on a second Autism Leaders Award programme which began in September.
Councillor Dr Michael Hardacre, the City of Wolverhampton Council's Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, said: "The Autism Leaders Award is an integral part of our wider SEND strategy.
“Giving people working in mainstream schools a much broader knowledge and understanding of autism will impact directly on classroom practices.
“I would like to congratulate everyone who has completed the award so far and are now helping their schools across the city offer the best possible support to pupils with autism.”
Samantha Walker, Special Educational Needs Coordinator at Holy Rosary Catholic Primary Academy, said: "Our school prides itself upon its strong inclusive ethos. The Autism Leaders Award will facilitate not only further inclusion but now equip the school with a strong and capable team to drive outstanding provision for all SEND children, especially those with autistic spectrum disorder."
Charlotte Underwood, Interim Head of School and Special Educational Needs Coordinator at Bushbury Hill Primary School, added: "I have thoroughly enjoyed completing the Autism Leaders Award as it has given me the knowledge and time to reflect on how we can improve provision. The impact has involved many changes in the school, including Sensory Circuits which is now well attended and enjoyed by many."
Dr Ada Adeghe, Head of Academic and Workforce Development at the University of Wolverhampton, said: “The Autism Leaders Award is an excellent example of collaboration between the council and university whereby teachers’ school-based practice is enhanced through active engagement with high quality masters-level continuing professional development.
“It has been most rewarding for everyone involved in the course to experience, first-hand, how well school teachers and university staff can usefully combine practice-based research knowledge with teachers’ own professional and tacit knowledge and experiences of their school settings.”
The ceremony also saw the launch of the Wolverhampton Autism Friendly Schools initiative, a self-assessment tool which will enable mainstream schools to evaluate their own provision for pupils with autism and determine if it could be improved.
The process will be supported by the SEND Outreach Service which will provide guidance, advice and training to enable schools to make any changes needed to guarantee best possible provision for children with autism in mainstream settings.
To find out more about the Autism Friendly Schools initiative, which is currently being trialled in three local schools, or the Autism Leaders Award, please email email@example.com.
Wolverhampton is working to become an Autism Friendly City, by becoming a place where people with autism feel safe, understood and supported, have the same opportunities as anyone else, can live the life they choose, receive personalised support when they need it, enjoy meaningful activities and play an active part in their community.
To find out more about autism, please visit the National Autistic Society website at www.autism.org.uk. For details of local help and support services, visit the Wolverhampton Information Network at http://win.wolverhampton.gov.uk.